A resident of the farm, Brian Ward is now sober and completed a college degree. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
A resident of the farm, Brian Ward is now sober and completed a college degree. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

Trappist Brother Martin Gonzales learned that Brian Ward had moved to Blanchet Farm in Carlton in an attempt to manage alcoholism. The aged monk released his walker and grabbed Ward’s hands. “That is sacred ground up on that hill,” Brother Martin said.

Ward, who came to the farm in 2015, has no doubt Brother Martin is right. “Blanchet Farm saved my life,” he told hundreds of supporters gathered March 4 in Portland for a brunch to raise funds for Blanchet House and its farm.

In addition to feeding people who are homeless, Blanchet offers case management for men who struggle with addiction and even mental illness. There is housing both in the flagship building near the Steel Bridge and at the farm, not far from the Trappist abbey.

“To say I was a broken man would be an understatement,” said Ward, who in the past three years has stopped drinking, finished a college degree and set himself up for a job.

But the previous decade was rough. Ward’s marriage ended. He lost his job and his house. He made deception an art and used most of his energy figuring out how to get the next drink. He drove his kids to school while intoxicated and robbed a convenience store for money to buy booze. He lived on the streets of Portland for three months.

“I was watching my life disintegrate, break before my eyes,” he said.

Then he found a flyer inviting men to Blanchet Farm as a place to get their lives together. It seemed like a good next step. He was welcomed warmly and began living with 20 other fellows who had stories pretty much like his. A case manager has kept him moving forward.

“I have no doubt in my mind that there is something special about the farm,” Ward said. “I learned to let go of everything beyond my control and the peaceful environment of the farm allowed me to consciously practice that every day. The most viable element was learning to love myself again.”

Jason Whitworth, who lives in the downtown Blanchet House, said the housing and case management have offered him growth and change. “It’s an opportunity for a bed and a roof over your heard and people who care to help you move forward with life,” Whitworth said.

Blanchet serves about 1,300 free meals daily with the help of 7,000 volunteers. Since it was founded 66 years ago by a team of University of Portland graduates, the house has served 16 million meals and helped 15,000 men get their lives back on track.

“We put them through a life plan and allow them to gain skills, gain their footing and go back out into society sober and ready to continue,” said John Parker, a member of Holy Family Parish and president of the Blanchet board.

Greg Baker, executive director of Blanchet House, said the ministry is getting stronger, with more case managers helping the men stay on course to recovery. “[The case managers] are not a Band-Aid, but the critical stitching that holds many of our guests’ lives together,” Baker said. 

“Working with the men here is an amazing opportunity to have a positive impact on a person’s life,” said Kristi Katzke, one of the case managers. “We help them to become the best they can be.”

Civic officials attended the annual brunch, including a Portland city commissioner’s aide and Mark Gamba, the mayor of Milwaukie.

“We ask your blessing on all those Blanchet serves and touches — the addicted, the homeless, the hungry, the unemployed, those who search for meaning,” Jesuit Father Gary Smith prayed before the brunch. Father Smith, who lives in the building two nights per week and is a spiritual guide, was taken by surprise when the board honored him for his work. 

Also recognized during the day were Anne and Marty Myers, who have marshaled food donations, and Bob and Sharon Lewis, major supporters of Blanchet Farm.

Special plaques went to the Blanchet founders on hand: Gene Feltz, John Moore and Jim O’Hanlon.